Last Chance to catch Robert Alexander's hip-hop, gangsta-rap drama, A Preface to the Alien Garden, in its world premiere at Rhode Island's Trinity Repertory Theatre. The story of a 17 year-old girl's ascension to the top of a street gang began previews Feb. 26, opened March 3 and ends its scheduled run April 3 as part of the 1999 Providence New Play Festival.
Alexander's intent was to draw a parallel between growing gang violence and hip-hop's increasing penchant toward gangsta rap's misogyny and nihilism. Searching for meaning in her life, the young woman, Lisa Body, finds it selling crack as a member of the L.A. street gang the Crips. She becomes increasingly powerful within the gang and eventually rises to the post of "number-one gun." "It's a play about the day the bitches took over," Alexander said with a laugh in our phone conversation (Feb. 22). The play contains mature language and violent situations.
The author of 13 plays, including Servant of the People, about Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, Alexander wrote the play with his teenage son in mind. "As a parent, there were too many days when I felt at a loss," he had said in a statement. "Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and other gangsta rappers seemed to get his ear when I couldn't."
When he was living in L.A., Alexander found himself in a neighborhood infested by drugs and the Crips. "You couldn't wear red outside without getting shot," he remembers.
Alien Garden was workshopped in the Mark Taper Forum in the fall of '95 and then at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival the following year, but it's taken some time to get a full production on its feet."There have been a lot of theaters that were interested and others that considered a co-production," Alexander says. "But it's a sad commentary about how conservative our industry is and how we like to play it safe -- and especially how we want to do stuff that's safe and not so angry." Alexander's The Last Orbit of Billy Mars, recently premiered at Washington, D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre, where the playwright has a residency. Edris Cooper-Aifowoshe, who has been collaborating with the playwright for more than 20 years, directs. Design is by Trinity's resident scenic designer and costume designer, Eugene Lee and William Lane. The cast includes Trinity Rep Conservatory students Nehassaiu deGannes and Sandy York, poet Jay Walker, actor/hip-hop artist Raidge, and New York actors Tanganyika Fredrick, Keskhemnu, John Thompson, and Donn Swaby.
Following each performance, Trinity staff and community leaders have been conducting discussions about the themes and issues raised in the play. Tickets are $24 to $34, and low-cost tickets are available to "under served" audiences through community organizations. For information, call (401) 351-4242.
Next up at Trinity Rep will be Dario Fo's satirical We Won't Pay, April 9-May 16.
-- by Diane Snyder and David Lefkowitz